Thursday, December 6, 2007


I was shaking like a Parkinson's patient in an earthquake.

My left foot was pointed south and planted a meter and a half away from my right foot, which was pointing west. My right knee was bent at a 90-degree angle, my right tricep was touching the inside of my right thigh, and Sukant Tiwari was pushing my upper body toward the ground. My calves throbbed, my groin was on the verge of snapping,
and my quadriceps were shaking harder than a maraca held by an exonerated Barry Bonds.

"Ahhhhhhhh," I groaned. Aliyah, who was in a mirror position (minus the shaking, pain and monumental effort), laughed. Sukant Tiwari let up on my back and looked at my purpling face.

"Are you OK?" Sukant Tiwari said with genuine concern.

"Ye-es?" I squeaked.

"No, you are not OK," he said, gently easing me out of the pose. "Do not fight with your body."

We were on the rooftop terrace outside our home on a Sunday morning. As a (very thoughtful and appreciated) anniversary gift, Aliyah had hired Sukant Tiwari to give us a private yoga lesson every Sunday at our home. We were skeptical when he showed up on a motorcycle, wearing jeans, and without a yoga mat, but Sukant Tiwari turned out to be a killer yoga instructor.

I like to pretend that I'm good at yoga. I've taken at least a few dozen yoga classes over the years. Plus, I eat granola and listen to Bob Dylan. So when Sukant Tiwari asked us whether we'd practiced yoga before, I answered with ill-advised hubris.

"Oh yeah," I bragged. "We've done some yoga."

And to show him I really knew what I was talking about, I pressed my palms together in front of my chest and said, "Namaste." And then I winked.

As soon as our private lesson began, I realized this was going to be far more difficult than any yoga class I'd ever taken. When there are twenty people in the room, I don't really have to push myself. It's unlikely that the instructor of such a big class will correct me more than a couple times. But there was no escaping the watchful eyes of Sukant Tiwari. When he thought I could go farther, he adjusted my body the same way he would a Gumby doll. This hurt. A lot.

Poses which had always seemed simple were suddenly a struggle. For instance, I pressed my palms together, raised my arms above my head and, following Sukant Tiwari's instruction, leaned slightly to the right. "No problem," I thought. Then, from behind, two hands gently grabbed my armpits and dragged my upper body down and to the right, at least tripling the degree to which I was leaning. Muscles (whose existence I had previously been unaware of) on my left side quivered and screamed.

"Ahhhhh," I grimaced.

The class continued like this. I initially thought every pose was easy until Sukant Tiwari adjusted me into a far more demanding (and correct) position. Each pose then ended either with me bailing prematurely or shaking like a tambourine played by the Micro Machines Guy after six cups of coffee.

The class ended after an hour. My three chanted "Om"s, which I think is a mantra meant to represent a vibration that yogis say pervades the entire universe (or something else I don't believe in), sounded more like the last croaks of a dying frog than a powerful finale.

Over glasses of water afterwards (Sukant Tiwari, like many Indians I know, prefers room temperature water to the chilled stuff we keep in the fridge), we realized that despite the strenuous workout we'd just had, we actually felt great. Next week, same time, same place, we told Sukant Tiwari.

"Good," he said. "Next week we'll start trying hard stuff."

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